The decision of the National Assembly to stipulate a specific order for the conduct of general elections in the country has raised tensions, bringing the relationship between the administration and legislative branches of government to a knife-edge.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
For the first time since the advent of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the National Assembly is mobilising to override a presidential veto.
President Buhari has by his actions and inactions vetoed more than 50 bills passed by the National Assembly as a presidential veto is assumed even if the president decides not to formally indicate his decision not to assent to a bill.
However, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill recently passed by the two houses of the National Assembly is touchy and provoking. The bill among others, stipulates a sequence which the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC should follow in organising the general elections.
In the amendment to the Electoral Act (2010), the legislators stipulated that INEC should organise the elections in three phases putting the National Assembly election first, then the state/governorship elections next and the presidential election should take place last.
The only other two times that the National Assembly overrode the presidential veto were in 2000 in the case of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC Act and in May 2007 in the case of the Order of Precedence Act.
The process for overriding a presidential veto is stipulated in section 58 (4) and (5) of the constitution.
(4) Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within thirty days
thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
(5)Where the President withholds his assent, and the bill is again passed by each
House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.
Why the two houses have gone the length of taking common position on the issue is rather remarkable. It is believed to be a fallout of the multiple crises in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. The developments in the APC fall in tandem with the aspiration of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP elements in the polity. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC had stipulated that the presidential and National Assembly election would hold on February 16, 2019, and the state governorship/legislative elections would hold on March 3, 2019.
The development was a surprise to some stakeholders as the National Assembly members had in the past sought to position their own election with that of the president so that they could benefit from the bandwagon or coattails that comes with the president.
However, in the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, the dissonance within the ruling APC is now suggestive of the fact that the legislators are not expecting to go into the election on the same platform with the president. This is not surprising given the unprecedented conflicts between the present National Assembly and the presidency despite the fact that the same APC formed the government in both arms.
In vetoing the bill, the president had cited the change of the order of the elections saying:
“The amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the principal act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to organise, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;
“The amendment to Section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process;
“The amendment to Section 152 Subsection 325 of the principal act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.
In a similar vein, it has brought the two chambers of the National Assembly to a bond unprecedented since the advent of the present National Assembly.
Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara in an extraordinary joint statement last weekend vowed that they would not be separated in their reaction to the presidential veto on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
“The Senate President and the Speaker, as heads of the two chambers of the National Assembly and representing the views of their colleagues, will want everybody to know that they are on the same page on what is the appropriate reaction to the President’s withholding of assent on the Electoral Act amendment bill.
“There is no disagreement between the two chambers as well as their presiding officers. The leadership of the two chambers constantly hold discussions and are in agreement on what to do, how to do it, when to do it and why it must be done.
“The issue at stake is not personal. It is about deepening democracy. It is about improving our democracy, and the National Assembly is on firm constitutional and legal grounds to amend the law as well as take decisions in the manner they have been responding.
“We see that story and the insinuations contained in it as mere distraction and unnecessary misrepresentation aimed at creating division in the Federal Legislature. The Senate President, Speaker and their colleagues urge members of the public to discountenance the report.”
Why it matters:
– The decision to position the National Assembly elections before the presidential election would serve as insurance for recalcitrant legislators as it would tend to limit the president from acting vindictively against legislators as his election is still ahead.
-Putting the presidential election last removes the bandwagon effect that ordinarily would have followed as voters would like to vote for the party that wins the presidential election in other elections.
-There is a suspicion that some governors may also be in the conspiracy against the president as their elections would also come before that of the president.